Managing Resistance To Change

Managing resistance to change can be made easy by analyzing your key stakeholders sway and power. Then implementing strategies to ensure they come on board quickly

Managing resistance to change is an obstacle and annoyance that most leaders experience at some point in their career!  Here are some critical principles you need to understand to minimize resistance to change within your team.

Understand the valley of despair

One thing you should keep in mind as you begin a change initiative is that things will generally get a whole lot worse before they get a whole lot better.

On a rational level, we all think that once a change is implemented things should improve (who is going to introduce a change that is going to make things worse!)  However, the reality is, is that things usually dive for a while before they improve.

The good news? When you understand that chaos comes before success, you'll cope a whole lot better!

That time of chaos - when you are implementing the change, but it isn't yet fully embedded, or it's embedded, but things have gotten worse - is known as the Valley of Despair.

Managing Resistance to Change: Valley of Despair

Approach change with realistic expectations - things will likely get worse before they get better

When you are in the depths of the valley, it can demoralize all involved ... regardless of whether the chaos is coming about due to poor implementation, or because you are managing resistance to change by your people.

And, unfortunately you won't know how far into the cycle you are.

Information theory tells us that we cannot identify the minimum or maximum point of a variable until we've passed it. At any particular point, things could start getting better or they could continue getting worse.

For example, you won't know which day to call the best day of your life — or the worst — until you've reached the last day of your life!

Approach the change adventure with realistic expectations

Therefore, approach the change adventure with realistic expectations. Things will probably get worse before they get better! Knowing this, you'll be mentally prepared to tough it out, and get past the valley of despair until things turn around. 

Eventually, your hoped-for results should begin to appear. People begin to feel more confident and get behind the new way of doing things. Morale improves; a sense of optimism begins to set in. You begin to sort out what works well from what doesn't work so well. You'll be able to make changes and mid-course corrections once you see how things work (or not!)

The key to managing resistance to change is to identify the key stakeholders

The success or otherwise of your project will hinge largely upon the people who have power and influence within your business. And these people will not always be an 'official leader'.

They could include charismatic characters within your company, people who have influence over people with power within your organization; even people from outside your company such as customers and suppliers. 

These people can be strong supporters of your change initiative - or they can block and shut it down indefinitely.

Use the influence of the most influential stakeholders to shape your project at an early stage. Not only does this make it more likely that they will support you, but their input can also improve the quality of your change initiative.

When you take the time to identify the key stakeholders and what their possible reaction to your project might be, you allow yourself to influence their willingness to support the change and hopefully win their support.

When you access "Managing Change In The Workplace", make use of the Key Stakeholders chart to help you identify the possible reactions of people to the change.

Once you have analyzed your key stakeholders and their willingness to support the change and their influence on others, you then up the improve your success success at managing resistance to change by asking a series of eight questions that will help you strategize how to best influence them. As an example, three of the questions you might like to ask are:

  • 1
    What financial or emotional interest do they have in the change initiative?
  • 2
    Who else might be influenced by their opinions? Do these people become stakeholders in their own right?
  • 3
    What is their current opinion of the status quo? Is it based on good information?

When you access "Managing Change In The Workplace" you'll get access to the the next five questions. Asking and answering these questions could be pivotal to you managing resistance to change.

Focus on the highly influential stakeholders first and the low influencer stakeholders last. Then construct a practical plan that gets through to people as effectively as possible. You want a communication plan that shares information in a way that neither under nor over-communicates.

Sway the Critical Mass

Think through what you need to do to keep your best supporters engaged, and on-board. They are actually far more important than the opposers! Because the people prevaricating in the middle (the 'wait and sees'), wondering which way to lay their 'chips', will be looking to see who is getting all the attention. 

Potential Roadblock: If you think that heavily involving the very vocal 'over-my-dead-body' types in the change process will help ... think again. 

Often, the amount of time it takes to win them over, simply doesn't bring about the changes you want. Your time is better spent swaying the, 'wait and see' types, to engage in the process. 

Managing resistance to change by engaging and inspiring commitment

The degree of trust you have built with your team and key stakeholders will pay off (or payback) about now! If you aren't trusted or believed by your people, the chances of you engaging and inspiring commitment to the change are slim! They'd prefer to listen to rumors and the gossip mill than you

But if you have built that solid foundation of trust ... then it is about to pay great dividends!

However, if you know that your Trust Bank Account is somewhat depleted, then consider who should be there with you. Who do people trust, that will help affirm that the change brings with it benefits, not just downsides? Have that person/(s) deliver the message with you.

Now is the time to make strong use of your stakeholder commitment plan that you previously developed (see Managing Change for this process). Regardless of whether you run the influencing commitment process on your own, or whether you need to engage others to help you build the trust levels, you need to be strategic in how you gain commitment. 

Probably the most important consideration in managing resistance to change is how to develop the commitment to the new way of doing things.

Commitment does not mean compliance ("going along with"). Commitment means the readiness and willingness to do whatever it takes (within reason and ethics) to make a new way work effectively. Here are some broad strategies that leaders can adapt  to make sure that people who "survive" the change genuinely commit themselves to support the new structure.


Have a Well Planned Out Strategy for Feedback and Input

A critical step in getting people's 'buy-in' is to enable them to feel that they have a say in their future destiny. People are much more likely to support a new set of ideas which they have had a key role in shaping.

Initiate involvement in shaping the change as early and with the greatest amount of participation and decision-making as possible.

You may not always be able to implement all the suggestions. When you can't include the suggestions offered up, then be crystal clear about why this cannot happen. As much as you can though, you should try to make use of the input provided and include it in the change process.

The most destructive change strategy is to pretend to listen to and consider the group's concerns, having already decided in advance what is appropriate/going to happen.

This type of approach will backfire because people will quickly perceive that they are being manipulated and conclude that the process is dishonest.

People Side of Change In The Workplace

You can view people's resistance as a problem and treat it coercively, which will probably add resistance. Or you can see it as a signal that people need more information or better treatment

Be Willing to Compromise

People need to feel that they have control and a say in their destiny. Take that away from them and you'll get resistance. 

Involve people in the planning and implementation of the change, and you open them up to the exciting possibilities contained within the change.

Do it well and they will become a driving force in creating the new, bright future.

People are much more likely to support a new set of ideas when they have had a key role in shaping those ideas. 

So, initiate involvement in shaping the change as early, and with the greatest amount of participation and decision-making, as possible.

If you hold rigidly to your predetermined outcomes and display an unwillingness to compromise, the possibility of workgroup support is minimized.

Involved team members often will suggest changes that significantly improve the original plan, because the people most heavily affected by a plan will correct its obvious defects.

Acknowledge Your Supporters and Reward Them

Don't wait for examples of completely changed behavior to surface before rewarding the new behavior. Reinforce any significant movement in the right direction.

Make sure that you let the people who are the early adopters know just how much you appreciate them. Throw a party, give them a gift, do something that acknowledges their efforts on behalf of the change project.

Recognize and Prepare for People's Reactions

Asking people to make significant behavioral changes and/or learn new and complex skills can be a very frightening request for many. Don't underestimate the degree to which someone's fear of 'looking foolish' might drive, an otherwise rational person, to act in an unhelpful or obtuse manner.

You can view people's resistance as a problem and treat it coercively, which will probably add resistance. Or you can see it as a signal that people need more information or better treatment.

Resisting Change

Much research has linked the feelings of anxiety, stress, uncertainty (even for those managing the change) with a decline in self-esteem. This decline has a major impact on performance and motivation. Read here how you can deal with people's emotional reactions to change.

Provide Just-in-time and Just-enough Training and Coaching

People may need a new set of skills, or you may need to teach them about the phases they can expect to go through during the change process. Don't overwhelm them with too much training. Do it as is needed, at the level and pace they can cope with.

In Summary

When managing resistance to change keep in mind that people's emotions are what you need to deal with the most, which is where we focus in the Managing the People Side of Change training.

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